Locating Wifi Users Spatially – Are there tools to make it happen?

Okay, guys. The saga continues. In previous installments I’ve discussed my reasons for leaving my wireless access point open (or not open). In general I’d prefer it be open  partially because I want to be a nice guy and partially because I’m lazy and don’t want to have to tell legitimate users (short term guests, family, contractors, visitors) how to connect to the internet. I hate being at the bowling alley and having to ask them how to connect, and even though my house is in a neighborhood if someone needs to connect I don’t really want to have to get involved.

An issue reared its head (again) last night while I was working on one of my websites. All of a sudden my internet speed went to nothing. It was late at night so I thought about just saying “woohoo BED TIME”, but I really wanted to get what I was working on done. Then I got curious. I went and checked my wireless router and saw that there was an extra device making use of it. I’d seen this before and had little slow downs, but it’s usually during off hours and I don’t need full throttle so I don’t worry about it.This time it was somehow affecting my own ability to do work and that is enough to get me agitated.

I didn’t do anything about it because it became an interesting thing to think about… how could I actually find out which person around me it was making use of my connection? Was it my neighbor that is only steps from my house? What about my other neighbor that is a little further away but still within range since there are no obstructions between our houses. Maybe it was an across the street neighbor? Maybe it was someone who wasn’t a neighbor at all and was just parked in the street in the general vicinity. Maybe one of the people that live in the house bought themselves a new cellphone / tablet and didn’t tell me and they’re playing on it or updating an OS or something huge like that. How could I find out?

Well, eventually I fell asleep in my chair and I didn’t come up with an answer, and even today I don’t have one. But what I’m thinking would be cool would be some kind of way of the router being able to tell you the general direction an incoming signal is coming from. My particular router has two antenna so it seems like it’s at least POSSIBLE if the router was smart enough. Or maybe someone out there knows of a cool gadget that I could buy that I could hold in my hand and walk around with that would be a sort of “man in the middle device”. It would be integrated with the router such that it could take over connections and forward them on to the router, but be mobile and be able to actually measure things like traffic speed to the connecting device. So as you carried this gadget around and walked away from a device you’d see the speed drop, and as you walked towards it the speed would go up… sort of a “hotter, colder” game. atleast then I could stand on one of of my house and know if the signal was coming from that direction or not.

I think it would be neat and definitely functional. It would allow me to stroll on over to a particular neighbor’s house and deal with them directly and politely rather than having to just cut it off for everyone or start banning devices.

Have any of you seen such a tool or bit of functionality in an existing router? Or another device that would actually help me solve this mystery? Maybe there’s a device out there that does this an much more. Maybe I’d have to buy three routers that all respond to the same channels and work together as a team and then they could be used to pinpoint all connected devices (spatially). I don’t know, but it’s an interesting thought experiment and something I would have found useful, so I thought I’d put the question out there. If one of you invents such a device now send me a note – maybe I’ll be your first customer!

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